the BIGGER picture


Just a glimspe. Susan's Perspective.

Jack Layton’s last letter to Canadians

I hope every fellow Canadian and global citizen has the opportunity to absorb Jack’s final letter. An outstanding piece of literature.  Mr. Layton, your message to us has been heard and will never be forgotten. We will prevail in your memory with diplomacy & dignity.



August 20, 2011

Toronto, Ontario

Dear Friends,

Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit, and my determination.

Unfortunately my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.

I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.

I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program, and move forward towards the next election.

A few additional thoughts:

To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined, and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.

To the members of my party: we’ve done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support, and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.

To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.

To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today; and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.

To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career, and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations, and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth, and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life, and our plans for the present and the future.

And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices; where your vote matters; where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives; and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton


Filed under: Canada, , ,

RESCUE HOMES: Lessons from Murang’a

New to the country and eager to see and experience as much of Kenya as possible, when I was asked to visit Murang’a and more importantly, Rescue Homes, I jumped at the chance.

Murang’a and its infamous rolling green hills welcomed me with open arms.  Located in Central Province of Kenya, Murang’a is incredibly picturesque with varying altitudes and expansive farmlands including tea plantations.

Completely shielded by an overgrown garden, when our driver pulled up to the gate of the Rescue Homes’ pilot project, I didn’t know what to expect.

I wondered how many young pregnant girls found refuge at this property.  I wondered how they were finding their time in the rural side and completely secluded from city life.  I wondered if they would be willing to speak to a visitor like myself – someone from the media.  I wondered…

When I met the young mothers-to-be, I realized I had nothing to worry about.  Their smiles said it all: full of life and promise.


FETCHING WATER: A new appreciation

Fetching water in Murang’a, Kenya photographed by Susan Wong


During my visit to Rescue Homes, their water supply had unfortunately been disturbed due to nearby road construction.

The house mothers volunteered to go fetch water at the bottom of the property, me being the curious “muzungo” that I was, I followed suit.  I had no idea what a journey I was getting myself into…

Fetching water is hard work!  No joke.

Under the hot midday sun, the three of us grabbed some empty plastic containers and ripped pieces of textile down the steep and slippery hills of the tea plantation.

I was wearing running shoes and the other ladies were wearing frictionless flip-flops.  Now, how did I manage to slip and fall, whilst the other ladies walked on like soldiers is mind-boggling.

I’ll be the first to admit it – slipping and sliding down and then up the hill and then being asked if I needed help by ladies with 100lbs of water on their backs was downright embarrassing.

Be super sure that I’ve found a new appreciation for water!

That day, I vowed to never waste another drop of water again.


Susan Wong is a resident photographer, writer, radio presenter and full-time adventurer at Capital Group Ltd.

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Kenya, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , ,

Curbside Cuisine: Popcorn in Nairobi, Kenya

Tasty popcorn at Prestige in Nairobi, Kenya by Susan Wong

Photo Credits: Susan Wong

I often shop for my groceries at Prestige, not because the vegetables are fresher or that there’s more parking; but because of a man named Larry who coincidently makes the best popcorn I have ever tasted in my life.

Larry making popcorn at Prestige in Nairobi, Kenya by Susan Wong

Larry Makanzie, 25, is a sharp entrepreneur that has learned to capitalize on hungry shoppers, curious passers-by lured by the aromas of fresh popcorn, and chronic snackers (such as myself).

Formerly known as ‘Fresh Pops’, Makanzie’s popcorn empire is now known as ‘Bando International’.  With no signage or marketing material, I may be one of the first to know what his humble popcorn stand is actually called.  But, at the end of the day, who cares?  Makanzie’s popcorn is the tastiest curbside cuisine I’ve tasted in a long time and makes me look forward to stocking up on my kitchen supplies!

Makanzie has been serving his customers at Prestige for the last 4 years.  A consistent queue of a few hungry snackers makes this popcorn stand one of the most profitable even at 50 ksh per bag.

Partly due to the consistent flow of business and also to his stubborn mission to provide the freshest popcorn to his customers, Makanzie’s popcorn is consistently steaming hot, fluffy and golden.

With diverse flavours to choose from: salt & vinegar, celery salt, mixed chilli spices – just to name a few; Makanzie provides the customer with choices and room for customization.  My favourite is the “Special” with an extra dash of celery salt.

This is definitely the friendliest popcorn stand where not only can you buy the fluffiest flavoured popcorn anywhere, it’s also a spot to catch up on the word on the street or take a breather after shopping.

Whether you’re a popcorn connoisseur or just want to support a worthy young entrepreneur, next time you’re at Prestige, make sure you visit Makanzie for some popcorn!

Queue for popcorn at Prestige in Nairobi, Kenya by Susan Wong

Don’t forget to follow me on TWITTER @SusanLuckyWong (the author)

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Food, Kenya, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , , ,

Guest Post: The Japanese Canadian

In the wake of the Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster; I think I speak for most of us when I say my heart goes out to those affected by the ongoing “controlled chaos”.

Today’s guest is not only a dear friend of mine, but also a brother whom I’ve grown up with in Toronto.  The author of ‘The Japanese Canadian’ relocated back to Tokyo a few years back, and yes, he survived the earthquake.  His firsthand accounts of the disaster are chilling and heart-wrenching.  Check out his blog for more real stories from a very real person.

Three weeks… is how long it has been since the earthquake hit the east coast of Japan.  It has been such a learning experience.

  • I learned that Japan could probably withstand the worst earthquakes, and still remain standing.
  • I learned that all the damage which comes to Japan with earthquakes, happens immediately after the earthquake.
  • I learned that Japanese people can still come together as a community, even at times of duress.
  • I learned that I have a hard time being a part of that community.
  • I learned that no matter how many years I am here, I am Japanese-Canadian, and not Japanese.

The damage in Japan has been colossal, with almost 30000 dead or missing.  The television broadcasts censored bits of information regarding the recovery efforts and the people who are coming together to help the community.  Indeed it’s a great scene to know that people are helping each other out, as that positive effort is what the community needs to see.

In Tokyo, I still see the daily affects that the earthquakes has on the city of Tokyo.  The shelves at the grocery store and convenience stores are empty.  In certain stores, soft drinks are still available, but in others, there is no water, no drinks and no alcohol.  The daily things such as toilet paper and tissue paper are still relatively scarce, and there are limitations on many things that people can purchase like water.  The land in certain areas which are man made, have buckled under the pressure of the shaking from the earthquake.  The shortage of power in the Greater Tokyo Area has caused many people and industries to go on stand-by for rolling black outs.  Although the everybody has playing a big role in helping to save energy, with so little lights, every night is a reminder that Tokyo is also on life support, still not fully recovered from the damage.

Then there’s everything else with political parties, elections and nuclear power plants, but honestly, everyone has a different stance on that, and everyone is entitled to their opinion about it.  It’s too serious and too touchy to discuss on here, so I will leave that debate for another time.

I felt strongly, that life is precious, and I shouldn’t plan for things that don’t matter to me.  Every single day of my life, I should be striving to be the best that I can be, and I should strive to make my surroundings feel that I am able to contribute to by being my best.  At the same time, if I am unable to gain understanding for my goals and aspirations, and be told be the image that someone believes me to be, then I have to make a choice of whether I should hold faith in the life that others promise me, or to take control of the path I feel that I should be going on.  There’s many uncertainties, and many will say, “you should be doing this” or “you shouldn’t be doing that”, but the only true answer is “what “I” want to do”.

“What I want to do”, and “where I am now” are the two answers that I will strive to have an answer for.  Everything in between is what I “should” be doing.

Filed under: Canada, Japan, Life, Photography, Quotes, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , ,


This past Sunday I joined a couple of friends and checked out Mavuno, a church based in Nairobi, Kenya.

“Mavuno”, which means “harvest” in Swahili is located on the grounds of an abandoned drive-in theatre.  How cool is that?!  And, where cars once parked; are now tents that house the growing Mavuno congregation, now in the thousands.

I enjoyed the animated Pastor.  Pastor Linda was just kick-starting April’s series of sermons: Sin City.  She’s absolutely hilarious, yet so on point.  The A/V crew was amazing.  Definitely will be back!

The setup of Mavuno was so inviting and homey.  You can’t visit and not feel welcomed.  I especially enjoyed the set up of tents large and small, which made the Sunday church experience feel more like an open-aired market.  What better way to spend Sunday morning than in God’s house under the expansive aqua blue African sky and comforted by the warm midday sun?

Mavuno Church in Nairobi, Kenya

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Kenya, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , ,

The Maasai Mara National Reserve: Unforgettable Memories

The hundreds of clunking cowbells rung harmoniously in the distant pastures and also immediately right next to me, “Clunk….clunk…Clunk…CLUNK”. The fresh manure smell was overwhelming but there was something peaceful and musical about the clunking, somewhat like giant ringing cast iron church bells in Europe. Except I wasn’t in Europe where beautiful cobblestone paths lined the laneways; I was somewhere in the Mara.

The Maasai Mara National Reserve is a place where tourists realize their legendary Kenyan safari dreams and where great memories are conceived.  And undoubtedly, at this very moment, a great memory was conceived.

Together with our team of visitors, I had been invited on a nature walk with some of the Maasai in the community. Mind you this was not just any “nature walk” like those in Canada where we look at rocks and enjoy the enclave of refreshing pine forests. No, a nature walk with the Maasai in the Mara means you’re roaming where the Lion King animals roam. Yes, Simba…Pumbaa…you name it, they were around.

The afternoon sun comforted my tired body with its warm rays. The gentle valleys and the green plains of the Mara were expansive and absolutely unforgettable. In the distance, I could see herds of zebras and a few giraffes grazing freely. The clunking continued to get louder and soon after, we ran into some cows owned by the Maasai.

That’s when it hit: the animals, Maasai and I were all roaming in the Mara!

Nature walk with Maasai by Susan Wong

Expansive green plains and gentle valleys of the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan Wong

A lion in the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan Wong

Pumbaa a warthog and family in the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan Wong

Pumbaa a warthog and family in the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan WongPumbaa a warthog and family in the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan Wong

Maasai on a nature walk in the Maasai Mara National Reserve by Susan Wong

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Kenya, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , , , , ,

Jet Lag

Having just completed my densely packed first week back in Toronto, I am now hibernating at home on a Friday evening. This 6-week trip thus far has been more challenging than my last. It seems that I’ve been hit with a severe case of jet leg or perhaps my week of untimely fatigue has been due to the “Developing Country Withdrawal Syndrome” – readjusting to the culture shock of home. Anyhow, my last week was basically spent readjusting to a new residence, new community, frigid weather, helping my sister’s pre-wedding projects, and fixing and reorganizing stuff. Whenever I’m back from Ethiopia, I’m always consumed with errands and things to just take care of. As much as I would like to relax and enjoy a slower pace of life at home, it seems more like a rat race in the dead of winter.

The other day while renewing my passport (I filled up all of my pages!), I witnessed a classic case of an inpatient woman’s lethal episode of “I have no time for such a long wait!” Nothing I haven’t seen before, but for some reason I was deeply bothered by the way she was verbally attacking others with her tone of voice and melodramatic body language. Since when was I so sensitive to a public shouting match and demonstration of heartless conduct? ‘Overreaction’ people called it. Perhaps well actually undoubtedly, my perspectives on everything have changed. In Ethiopia, I know who I am whereas back in Canada, I now struggle to find a place to fit in.

Anyhow, most people have no idea why I’m still in Ethiopia for, but all I can say is that I’m pursuing my dreams and realizing that to make them become a reality is only possible if I have the freedom and the means to accomplish them.

Don’t sacrifice tomorrow’s dreams with today’s inaction. But navigating the maze through the many turns and twists that we call life can be a daunting and a confusing journey. You simply don’t know where to begin. For me, every door of opportunity that has opened, I’ve literally pushed myself to walk through them. Real experience is the only way to really find what your true passions are. I can’t say I have an answer to it all, but at least through experimenting, failing and succeeding I’ve found more clarity. As they say in the financial world, higher risk historically is associated with higher rates of return. The same goes with finding our passions and realizing our dreams. Are we going to just wonder about the ‘what ifs’ or are we going to seek them out? If we’re afraid of risk, we’ll never step past the protective walls of our comfort zone. Take a leap of faith. Whatever it is, just give it a go!

Crystal clear photographed by Susan Wong

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Ethiopia, Life, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , ,

Random Window Thoughts in Ethiopia

I’ve always enjoyed looking out the window. But, for some reason in Ethiopia, I feel drawn and absolutely captured when I peer out a window. This morning, as I took a minute to enjoy the chirps, and the gold and green flickers of the front garden, I finally realized that there were no ugly screens on any of the windows. Imagine, unobstructed floor to ceiling single-paned windows that open entirely…WITH NO UGLY SCREENS! It literally feels like there are no boundaries between the indoors and outdoors. Love it! That’s one thing I don’t miss about home, window screens.


Ever think about why window screens are necessary in North America? I mean, in Africa, there are a whole lot more annoying insects than in Canada. Well, at least in urban areas. Windows without screens are just unthinkable! Ok, so an odd fly or mosquito might get in to the house, but seriously are we so paranoid about pint-sized insects that we have to cage ourselves in? Or, maybe it’s just great marketing.


The system in Ethiopia is so much more idyllic. An insect mistakes your home as an outdoor playground…all you have to do is open another window and it will eventually find it’s way out. It’s that simple. No electric swatters, insect repellent candles, rolled-up newspapers or tennis racquets. Insects and humans, live in harmony over here. Take my case for instance, I’m covered in scars from last year’s flea epidemic….and I still don’t go around swatting everything in sight. Is it tolerance, acceptance or have I freed myself from our North American paranoia? I guess a bit of each.

Here are some long overdue panoramas of my expedition to Mt. Kenya (Dec 20-26, 2007). ENJOY!

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Ethiopia, Life, Photography, Thoughts, Travel, , , , ,


I believe everyone has the innate willingness to give. Though sometimes we may feel intimidated and hesitant with the concept of selfless giving, but once you start helping others, you just can’t stop. Giving is simply infectious. And, most importantly, we all have it in us.

Today [2 weeks ago] was an incredible day. Actually, it was exhilarating! Prior to my visit to Toronto, Tadeese, the Director of Bright Hope Bright Future Kindergarten had informed me that upon my return to Addis Ababa, a reception in my honour would be held. I really didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t donate these chairs and tables to be recognized, nor did I want the attention. This was just my humble attempt to inspire others, and to do something for these incredibly joyful children and their financially-stricken community.

When I heard about the numerous confirmed guests, I was in total shock. It turned out that while I was in Canada, Tadesse was able to successfully invite members of the community, all of the students’ parents, government officials, children’s sponsors, journalists, representatives from businesses and colleges, and finally potential sponsors.

Today [2 weeks ago], as I walked through the gates of the school, I was overwhelmed by the outpour of gratitude, appreciation, and support. As my gaze fell on the 100 or so strangers awaiting my arrival on this early Sunday morning, I couldn’t help but question whether or not a sense of disappointment had ever crossed their minds. They took timeout of their busy lives for me, whom seemed to be young and naïve?! They probably imagined the guest of honour to be much older or at least someone who looked wiser. When all of the children welcomed me loudly and waved with illuminating smiles, it was clear, I was the ‘Suzan’ they had spoke about. A simple 23-year-old young Asian woman…um, surprise?!

In addition to presenting the books, crayons, pencils, sharpeners, games, and numerous other donations that were donated by my friends and family to the school, the program also included an awards ceremony for the top 3 students in each class. As the morning went on, random people in attendance began to raise their hands and pledge their support! There were many who pledged to sponsor some of the children, and there were others who decided to donate 1000birr in cash! These generous people had always had it in them to give, but because of all of your donations, YOU HAVE INSPIRED OTHERS TO HELP TOO!

GIVING, IS SIMPLY INFECTIOUS. It’s easy to get cynical when you’re stuck in cyclical bureaucracy and surrounded by people and organizations that have lost the passion to advocate. But, with a little inspiration and some momentum, realizing our social responsibilities is as easy as 1-2-3.

Let’s continue….to work together….and to inspire one another.

Susan Wong in Ethiopia Visiting a Kindergarten March 23, 2008

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Ethiopia, Life, Photography, Quotes, Thoughts, Travel, , , , , , , ,

Random Act of Kindness

Everyone knows helping people makes yourself feel good…great…splendid… But really, does it? Are you helping others to feel good, or was that random act of kindness really a selfless action?

2 weeks ago, before I flew back to Canada to visit my family, I decided to purchase second-hand kindergarten school chairs and tables to donate to that underprivileged school I had written about earlier. (Ethiopia: “Bright Hope, Bright Future”) I had the option of sponsoring a couple of children for their education, but then that would mean just helping the two lucky ones. I wanted to help all of the children, and every single child enrolling at that school in the future. I wanted to create sustainable change.

My connections lined me up with a jaded-profit-sucking businessman in the immediate community. He had stored hundreds of school supplies and allowed them to collect dust after numerous schools had closed down over the years. I couldn’t believe it, this man who grew up in this very community knew exactly what the state of this kindergarten was in, and just folded his arms and allowed vital chairs and tables to be eaten away by termites and cockroaches than allowing underprivileged kids benefiting from them. Bleh.

I tried to negotiate the price down over a couple of weeks, not because I couldn’t afford it, but because I wanted this businessman to understand his social responsibility and the need for volunteerism. It wasn’t about making a profit now. It was about helping his own community and leading by example to provoke changes in the mentalities of so many Ethiopians. Anyhow, he wouldn’t budge.

The day I decided to purchase the 80 chairs and 29 tables, I felt good, I guess. I mean I knew I was helping these children and families, but to me I just felt like I had made a shopping purchase. People around me just assumed I was a rich foreigner, which is far from the truth, and just wanted to do their part. Man, it always angers me when Ethiopians sell themselves short. Let’s face it, the country will never get better, despite the billions of dollars foreign aid pumps in annually, unless the mentality of the people change. It’s time to build a culture of volunteerism. It’s time to help your neighbours, even if they’re just a beggar or a multimillionaire. And, it’s time to phase out the foreigners. Seriously, Ethiopia can do it, on their own if and only if they are willing to change their mentality.

Anyhow, I wasn’t in the best of moods during the move, but that all changed when the jaded-profit-sucking businessman told me in Amharic with a toothy smile, “I’m a victim of your volunteerism…” Guess what he did?! He donated 4 blackboards!!!!!!!!! Ok, I know that doesn’t seem a lot, but the point is, this man changed just a little bit and was helping his own community. It doesn’t matter how small or big a donation may be, heck, it could be just volunteering a day’s labour…but nothing is trivial. Help is help. And, I felt so honoured to be part of that small moment in his life, to be a witness of his generosity. It felt amazing! Even the driver of the pickup decided to just volunteer his services for the day! Infectious!

When we delivered the chairs and tables to the school, the children had stayed for an extra couple of hours to await the arrival of their new property! All 60ish children jumped up at the sight of the chairs and tables, and started pointing and saying in disbelief, “Those are our chairs…..that’s our table…look! Look!”. It was one of the best moments in my young life. All of the children began to chant, “Thank you Susanna, thank you Susanna..” And, all I can remember was trying to figure out if they had meant me…me? Man, controlling and holding back the tears was tough. Even all of the parents and teachers were moved to tears. It was a crying fest. When all of the children ran towards me to thank me again and to shake my hand, one by one, I looked into their eyes and told them, “thank you”.

There is no doubt that this community has done more for me than they realize.

P.S. I made the Principal promise to donate these chairs and tables to another kindergarten if one day, they end up closing their doors.

Filed under: Africa, Canada, Ethiopia, Life, Photography, Thoughts, , , , ,

Through My Eyes


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